The Letters

Hugs

I think hugs are generally good. There have been many times in my life when a hug seemed to effortlessly alleviate something unwanted: physical pain, emotional pain or sadness, dread, fear, disappointment, anger… How could that be? Is there a mechanism in us that gets triggered when we get a hug that somehow solves problems and erases bad feelings? Yes, in fact there is a mechanism; here goes my engineering nerdiness again.

Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that produces a feeling of security and trust when it is released. It is also known to increase feelings of generosity and forgiveness. A hug is one thing that can trigger the production of oxytocin and its release into our system. Keep in mind that the hug needs to be at least 20 seconds long for this chemical to be secreted into our brain and blood system. So, the short hugs that we give to our friends and acquaintances are not going to result in a deep, trusting bond that we can feel with someone very close to us. There are other things that scientific studies have shown to induce a release of this trust building, soul comforting substance in us. Breastfeeding, cuddling, dancing, massages, and praying have all been shown to release oxytocin in humans. And there are benefits other than trust and perception of security that we can receive from regular doses of oxytocin.

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Support the immune system (by stimulating the thymus gland)
  • Lower heart rate
  • Lower stress (lowers cortisol levels)
  • Improve sleep (that cortisol again!)
  • Stimulate the brain’s memory centers
  • Reduce pain (both physical and emotional)
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Make you happier overall

We hug people we love when they are leaving us. In 1Sam 40:21, David and Jonathan are sad to be parting ways and kiss – surely, they hugged as well. Paul received hugs when he left.

When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship. (Acts 20:36-38)

We hug people we love when they return to us. Like how Esau ran to meet Jacob after he returned from Paddan Aram 14 years after fleeing. And the parable of prodigal son:

“So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)

We hug people we love when we want them to get better, to show them we care about them, to comfort their pain, discouragement, fear, and worry.

“Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them. (Mark 10:15-16)

Did you notice above what scientists have discovered? Praying releases oxytocin! I wonder how THAT can be true. Seriously, when do we feel safer than when we approach the throne of God?

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

God even hints to us about the physical health benefits we get from hugs – especially hugs from Him:

“As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; And you will be comforted in Jerusalem.” Then you will see this, and your heart will be glad, And your bones will flourish like the new grass; And the hand of the LORD will be made known to His servants, But He will be indignant toward His enemies. (Isaiah 66:13-14)

Solomon told us that sometimes we should not hug. I guess he’s talking about physical hugs in times of pestilence. Timely advice, I know. But the comforting from God we need to seek always.

A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing. (Ecclesiastes 3:5)

There is common imagery in the scriptures of how we are sheltered, protected, comforted, effectively embraced, under the wings of God. I am comforted just by reading it!

He will cover you with His pinions, And under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. (Psalms 91:4)

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. (Matthew 23:37)

How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. (Psalms 36:7)

I read a great essay called Under God’s Wings written in 1912 by J. R. Miller. He talks about the protection and comfort we receive from our Creator and how the wings of a mother bird are usually wide enough to cover her brood of chicks. But, in Malachi, the image used is the infinitely long rays of the sun that are long enough to cover, protect, and embrace all who follow Him.

“But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. (Malachi 4:2)

Pray for each other often to get a shot of oxytocin, and when appropriate, hug each other for at least 20 seconds! Regular doses will improve your life.

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)           

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Enemy

Would you agree that by definition, “the enemy” is “the bad guy?” The word comes from Latin “inimicus” which means “not friend.” I remember some time ago, I got in the car with my younger son and the stereo came on. I had been listening to some history podcast on the origins of World War I.  I shut it off, but my son asked if we could listen to it.  So, we started learning about some fairly obscure details of the Balkan wars and how Montenegro attacked the Ottoman Empire… blah blah blah.  Actually, I don’t really remember those details, but I do remember my son, maybe 10 years old at the time, asking me, “who were the bad guys, the Ottomans or the Balkans?” Hmm. That’s a good question, right? It is an easy question if you are an Ottoman, or a Balkan.  In Exodus 17, the Israelites are confronted with their first national enemy – Amalek and his army. The Amalekites were “not-friends.” Before that, in Genesis 14 is a story of a war between some kings, and like my son, I could have asked, “who are the bad guys, Amraphel, Arioch, Chedorlaomer, and Tidal, or the opposing group of kings, Bera, Birsha, Shinab, Shemeber, and the king of Bela?” From our perspective it may not have mattered at all, except for when Chedorlaomer and his nasty cronies won the battle and took Abram’s nephew, Lot, captive… Oops, they messed with the wrong guy and became enemies of God’s chosen. This is not a position anyone would want to be in.

The mountains saw You and quaked; The downpour of waters swept by. The deep uttered forth its voice, It lifted high its hands. Sun and moon stood in their places; They went away at the light of Your arrows, at the radiance of Your gleaming spear. In indignation You marched through the earth; In anger You trampled the nations. You went forth for the salvation of Your people, For the salvation of Your anointed. You struck the head of the house of the evil to lay him open from thigh to neck. Selah. (Habakkuk 3:10-13)

Reading through the old testament, one may get the impression that God has a violent job to do – to displace and destroy the evil populations that have inhabited the land He was giving to His chosen. Compare this with the stories of God’s actions in the new testament where there was relatively little violence.  The new testament stories speak more loudly and directly of gentleness and forgiveness than they do killing and purging the land of evil. Jesus gave us an example to follow – that is one of love.

A futile wish I have is that the world leaders would recognize this and stop considering others their enemy. But, doesn’t it start with us? Paul tells us that people are not our enemies in Eph 6. Yes, we’ll get to that… Right now let’s consider another enemy that you really need to keep in mind as you walk.

You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

Please, read that whole chapter 4 of James. It is awesome! I believe that James, and much of the Bible, uses the phrase “the world” to refer to the entirety of the ungodly, societal system that we live in. Here in 1 John, we read another hint at my reference above to Eph 6… Yes, we’ll get to that.

We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. (1 John 5:19)

Friendship with the world is brushing right up against friendship with the evil one. Looking through the filter of the Word of God, we need to discern what good decisions are as we walk through this world. I guess we are living in enemy territory and need to be careful to choose life!

For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:6-8)

Does this passage identify yet another enemy? Yes, our flesh is indeed an enemy that needs to be crucified. That word “hostile” is the same Latin root I mentioned, “inimicus,” that means “not friend.” Galatians 5:9-21 gives us a list of deeds of the flesh: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. But, I think our flesh, the enemy, shows up in other ways as well. We battle fear, insecurity, guilt, worry, doubt, etc.  These things and others are topics of conversations we have with ourselves that can be harmful and distracting, drawing us away from God.

All these enemies we have identified here have a common source. Strife between people and nations, the societal system we live in, our internal conversations and struggles, all come from that craftiest beast of the field introduced to us in Genesis 3:1. The real enemy is that evil one, the adversary.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Our ability to thwart this enemy is given to us through the following 6 verses. The next 5 verses (Eph 6:13-17) are spelling out the armor of God. But let us always remember that all important 6th verse:

With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with  all perseverance and petition for all the saints, (Ephesians 6:18)

I’ve heard so often that our only offensive implement in the armor is the Sword, which is the Word of God, but that is not true at all. Our prayers are also a formidable weapon against the enemy! And we are not instructed to pray for ourselves, but to pray for each other. Remember, God does not want any to perish, but that ALL come to repentance. (2Pet3:9) We are an undefeatable force when we are together. God is our front line and our rear guard (Isa52:12) and wherever two or more are gathered in His name, He is there (Mat18:20.) We need each other.

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. … for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27-36)

Pray for each other, keep your focus on God, be strong and courageous, and put on your armor daily!

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)                    

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Patience

I was at a friend’s house and he wanted to demonstrate his new stereo for me. Typically, he would play his music by plugging his stereo into his phone and streaming the music from the internet. But streaming music compromises the sound quality, and this new hi-fi system was worthy of a high-quality source. So, my friend had dug out his CD player and collection of CDs. He put in a CD and as we waited for the disk to load, he said, “Remember when we moved from cassette tapes to CDs and how amazingly fast it was to go from one track to another? Waiting for a tape to rewind seemed to take forever. And now, we are so used to the immediate response of the internet, we hate waiting for a CD player.” Yes, our world keeps getting faster and we expect instant gratification from more and more things. When I started working in my field, I would design something and then wait, often for weeks, to get the parts together to evaluate a prototype.  Now, “RP” is a regular phrase that I use in my job that stands for “rapid prototype.” I can now often expect to have a prototype in the same day! We get so used to having things quickly, that we cannot even take the time to say “rapid prototype” – we need to be FAST and so we say “RP” instead. In May of 2019, Amazon started shifting their Amazon Prime service from 2 days to a one-day standard delivery. What do we want? “Stuff!” – When do we want it? “Now!”

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

That word “fruit” is the Greek “karpos” and means benefit, produce, profit, harvest… fruit. In other words, the things that we can expect to gain from God’s spirit are in this list. As I have attempted to illustrate above, our culture today is working to push patience off the list. (yes, I hear you muttering about the other items on the list as well… we do live in a broken world.) We’ve all heard that “patience is a virtue.” A virtue is a characteristic that is admirable and beneficial to one’s self and to others. Certainly, every fruit of the spirit is virtuous by nature.

The familiar story of the Israelites at Mt. Sinai in the book of Exodus gives us some examples of both patience and impatience exhibited by various beings. First there is the flagrant impatience of the Israelites loudly and frequently proclaimed. This is probably the greatest example of unappreciative whining in human history. These people were impatient. And yet, God was patient. Moses was driven to impatience multiple times, culminating later with the punishing consequence of not being permitted to enter the Promised Land (Num 20:1-13.) Moses went up on the mountain to receive the Law. After the people had agreed to the covenant 3 times (Exo19:8, 24:3 & 24:7) they again became impatient and complained to Aaron. Aaron also became impatient and decided to appease the people with an abomination, the golden calf. And, we see God lose His patience by contemplating the destruction of the people in v.32:10. Moses, the hero in this part of the story, exhibits patience and intercedes for the people and basically saves them. But then, when he saw with his own eyes the abomination that the people were engaged in, he lost his patience and threw down the tablets of the law.

God changed His mind because Moses was patient and present. Likewise, if we try to do everything alone, we will eventually fail! We need each other, my friends. We are relational creatures and thrive on companionship. And God created us in His image. If we were meant to do this alone, I think we would not be here! If God wanted to exist alone, He certainly could, but there would be no creation. God wants companionship. That is why we exist. We are being refined to attain companionship status.

For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, (Hebrews 2:11)

We desire to be called His brethren. Part of the path to get there is to work together. Read 1John3:16.

“…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,” (Hebrews 10:24)

By nurturing our relationships, we can stimulate one another to patience, arguably one good deed worth pursuing. We’re to practice being worthy companions to each other so we can accompany God in eternity.

“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:9-13)

Here in 2Peter, we’re told that God is patient… Sure, we know that already. But I didn’t stop the quote at vs. 9 or 10, because the passage is not only for us to be encouraged by who and what God is.  From this passage, we need to learn that the reason why we are following this path is that we have Hope for what is better. Yes, we need to wait for God, for His coming, for the Bride to make herself ready. But, waiting alone is really hard, lonely, frustrating, and even dangerous in that the temptation to take matters in our own hands could lead to destruction. We need to lift each other up – support each other – nurture our relationships, being in constant contact and holding each other accountable for our actions and decisions. I wonder if Abram and Sarrai went to a multitude of counsel before engaging Hagar in their impatience (Gen 16:2.)  I wonder if David was sneaking a gander at naked Bathsheeba with his advisors in the room.

Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. (Romans 15:1-2)

Time is a resource that God gave us, and we treat it like a commodity, like a currency. The only difference between time and money is that time is the great equalizer. Bill Gates and I both have the same number of hours in a day. Because of that, we erroneously tend to treat time with a scarcity mindset. It looks like this: I never feel like I have enough time, and so if I am not being productive, I must be wasting time. But just because I am not being productive, does not mean that I am procrastinating or distracted. Waiting on God, exercising patience, and simply sitting with a situation without acting, are beneficial uses of time when we are not being productive in the typical sense. My time is precious, it slips away so easily… My habit is to operate along the lines of: “I don’t have time to be patient!” or “What can I do to be productive while I wait?” Patience is our ability to ignore the fallacy that time spent not being productive is wasted time.

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)           

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Focus

Back in the previous century, as a mechanical engineering student, I was required to take an optics class.  This is basically learning about the reflection and refraction of light as it passes through a material (like glass or water.)  When light enters a material, it will bend some amount, depending on the material properties. Light even bends after it travels though empty space and enters the air and moisture in earth’s atmosphere. This is called refraction and it is the reason we get rainbows and sunsets. Optical engineers get to take many classes studying this. They are the designers that create and improve lighting, eyeglasses, telescopes, microscopes, laser surgery, fiber optic communication, cameras, the screen you are likely reading this on, and even the lowly magnifying glass. And for those few who received this letter on paper, I printed it for you using my laser printer, the design of which employed the skills of at least one optical engineer. Three cheers for optics and optical engineers!

The lowly magnifying glass? This simple device was invented in the late 1200’s. (Actually, God invented the eyeball long before the 1200’s!) It is the foundation for many inventions and discoveries that we take for granted today. The key feature of the magnifying glass is its focal point.  This is the location where the light, entering the lens and bending, will be most highly concentrated. We can use this device for many things. If I were stranded on a deserted island and I had one, I could use it to concentrate the light coming from the sun and start a fire.  And, while I was gathering firewood for the fire, if I got a splinter under my skin, I could use the lens to focus the image of the splinter on my eye so I could more easily remove it.  Both of these examples would bring me great relief in such a predicament.  But I would probably regret trying to do both of those things at the same time!

Multitasking is a modern term that came from the computer industry. Some computers are designed to be able to perform two tasks at the same time.  Even though our brains are still superior to manmade computers in many ways, our biological computer is not able to multi-task.  We might perceive such an ability, but scientists have proven that, when we think we are multi-tasking, our brains are simply shifting our concentration from one task to another very rapidly.  This switching back and forth makes our brains more tired, using more energy and taking more time. Our great idea of typing an email while talking on the phone to save time is actually a bad idea. Just as we would not want to use a magnifying glass to start a fire and remove a splinter at the same time, another truly bad idea would be to attempt to read a text that you get while you’re driving a car. Magnifying glasses and our brains are both designed to focus on one thing at a time.

“The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. “But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. (Matthew 6:22-24)

When we see a photo that is out of focus, we cannot blame the lens. It always does its job, focusing the light, or image, at the focal point.  Our complaint with the blurry photo is that the focal point is not where we want it.  The camera lens was focusing on the wrong thing.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)

This quote, as are most of the scriptures I cite, is taken from the New American Standard.  The word “dwell” is translated from the Greek word, “logizomai.” The Complete Jewish Bible translates it as “focus.” If you are focused on the right things, blessings will come – that is a promise.

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers. (Psalms 1:1-3)

Reading God’s word is wonderful and beneficial to us but, focusing on His word with intention to understand and internalize is essential. Try this: Read a passage of scripture, close your eyes and ask God to show you what He wants you to learn from that passage. Sit with that thought and consider. Focus on the thoughts that come into your mind and apply them to you, your life, the things that are concerning you.  This intentional focus is one way for us to grow and develop and progress toward our goal of imitating Messiah. This is meditation.

Surely you’re familiar with the adage that positive people view a glass half full and negative people see the same glass as half empty.  A good friend of mine proposed a variation of this that I want to share. A simple shift in our focus could bring about higher satisfaction, lower stress, more productivity, a change for better, etc.  Sounds like a miracle… but it is merely a shift in our focus. Instead of living our lives concentrating on the events that lay ahead, the never ending – always lengthening – list of things to do, the schedule for next week, the tasks we need to accomplish, the deadlines we’re facing… try living with a focus on the things that we have accomplished. What has come about as a result of all the things we have already crossed off the list? Who has benefitted from our hard work and diligence? How have we made the world a better place lately? This focus on the positive will energize your motivation.

See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:15-22)

Rejoice Always.  This is a focus that we are called to; that will yield a quality of life that we all desire.

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.
(Colossians 3:2)           

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Sleep

I am going to share with you an embarrassing moment with you.  Actually, this has happened to me a handful of times. At bedtime, while reading to my kids, drowsiness simply overpowered my consciousness and I fell asleep. Literally, in mid-sentence, my eyes closed, and my mouth stopped talking and I drifted into a sleep state.  I can remember when I was a child, my family and me poking fun at my grandmother for her ability to fall asleep sitting up straight while watching TV. And now, long before I am a grandparent, I find myself being the object of a similar joke. I also remember, while I was driving late at night when I was about 17, falling asleep for enough time to drift off the road, waking up in time to violently swerve back onto the road. This is not narcolepsy, which is a disorder that causes one to suddenly fall asleep at seemingly random times; this is simply pure fatigue. When we don’t get enough sleep, our mind takes control of the situation and shuts down, attempting to get the rest it needs.

And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41)

I think of this account often and tend to easily find sympathy for the disciples. Often, I will read a story in the scripture of some admonishment or a bad example, and I’ll say to myself, “wow, how could they be so stupid? I would never do that!” But, in this case, I can totally empathize, and I dread the possibility that Messiah might ask me to stay awake for Him. To some extent, our conscious effort can over-ride the brain’s need for sleep and we can stay awake and continue to function. But, both short-term and long-term sleep deprivation is a dangerous thing and is harmful to our health. Our bodies were designed to sleep about a third of our time alive.  Science has studied this biological need for decades but we are still asking many questions about it. As is the case with most of creation, every time we learn one thing, we also learn that there are two more things we don’t know!

Scientists have known for a long time that during sleep, the brain is very active. But they have fairly recently discovered that during sleep, the space between the neurons in the brain increases and allows the fluid in the brain to flow through.  This flow is how the brain flushes out the waste produced by the cells, which is toxic. If this process is shortened repeatedly (by not getting enough sleep,) then the toxins build up in our brain. The theory is, that this build-up could be the cause of dementia and other similar diseases. And I wasn’t surprised to also learn that due to our culture of productivity, profit, and busyness, ideas are being explored to work around this natural mechanism and “hack the system.” Rather than teaching that we need more sleep, (much like how we were taught that smoking is bad) there seems to be a lot of effort spent toward figuring out a way to flush those toxins faster, with less sleep, so that we can be more productive. There is one more example of mankind deviating from God’s intent.

I am so impressed with God’s innovative creation… When we sleep, we find a safe and comfortable place to do it.  Have you ever seen fish sleep in an aquarium? The only movement you can see in a sleeping fish is in their gills, to provide them with oxygen.  But whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals need to breathe air. They are not able to find a safe and comfortable place to sleep. So, they take turns sleeping! Actually, their brain takes turns sleeping. They use something called “unihemispheric slow-wave sleep.” Their brains are split into halves, just like ours, but their halves are near copies of one another.  They use one half of their brain to swim around and breathe while the other half sleeps! Fun fact.

I mentioned that our conscious effort can somewhat override the need for sleep. And sometimes an override can come from external forces.  If someone was in a dangerous situation, like a war zone, I think it is safe to imagine that their brain would stay awake. But with our God, our faith in His Way, and His love for us, we can literally rest in any situation.  Wait, surely God would not allow us to sleep peacefully when our life is in danger. That’s preposterous. Or is it?

Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:36-40)

When we sleep, we are most vulnerable. Look at what happened to Samson (Judges16,) or what could have happened to Saul, were David not so righteous concerning God’s ordination (1Samuel26.) This is why we humans station a night watch, so others can sleep safely. Well, Messiah, the man, was no different. He was most vulnerable on that cushion, subject to perilous drowning. He was able to sleep through such danger because he had a “night watchman” looking out for Him.  His father (same as mine and yours, by the way…) is a sleepless watchman.

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; The LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, Nor the moon by night. The LORD will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in From this time forth and forever. (Psalms 121)

I have to wonder about the origin of our need for sleep. Adam slept when God took his rib out to make Eve (talk about being vulnerable!) Sleep is not really mentioned again until after the flood. Around that time, God seems to have changed a lot of things – He shortened man’s life to 120 yrs. (Gen 6) and in Gen9:12, He added the rainbow (changing physics?)  Noah gets drunk and sleeps. (Gen9:21) Could it be that in Eden, or before the flood, humans did not need to sleep? Here is why I ask this:

And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; (Revelation 21:23-25)

When God returns, He will restore things from this broken world to the way He intended them to be, and this description of the new Jerusalem is a picture of that. If the new Kingdom has no night, will we have no sleep? Surely, the physical need for sleep, (flushing our brains, etc.) will go away. But I also think that our need for cycles will go away as well.  The cycle of light and dark sometimes resembles my cycle of committing sin and repenting, of seeking the praise of men and the praise of God, of following my own heart and the heart of God… etc.  I sincerely hope that the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21) is the elimination of these cycles and that we can enter into His rest permanently!

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)           

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Vessels

The Container Store is a national chain of retail outlets founded and headquartered in Dallas, TX. It is a department store where all the departments are full of things that hold, organize, and contain your stuff. Our society sustains this $800 million enterprise that focuses on storing and organizing the things we buy and own, as well as a $38 billion self-storage industry that allows us to keep the stuff we buy that we don’t have room for in our homes. Materialism and the acquisition of things would be a great topic for discussion for some other day. I think it is funny that the name “Container Store” is somewhat redundant; by definition, you store stuff in a container.  The word vessel comes from the Latin “vas” and is also the root of our word “vase.” It means just what we think that it means – a thing that carries or holds or stores some other thing. A cargo ship, an artery, and a cooking pot are all vessels. And, surely in the context of this letter, the concept that your body is a vessel that can be filled should bring to mind a scripture:

Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. (2 Timothy 2:19-21)

This scripture goes on to give us all some really good advice (no surprise there…) so you will certainly benefit if you read the whole chapter. We know that cargo ships are supposed to hold cargo, arteries are meant to hold blood, and cooking pots hold food; it seems from the scripture that our bodies should hold honor. These containers, however, don’t need to hold what they are meant for.  You could fill a cargo ship with seawater. Or you could fill arteries with chocolate pudding.  And as the scripture says, you can fill your body with dishonor. Things are simply better when vessels are filled with what they were meant for.

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is wasteful, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; (Eph 5:18-20)

Once again, I encourage you to read the whole chapter. Verse 18 goes so well with the others surrounding it. If my “self” is full of God’s spirit, is there room for anything else? Well, yes, I think so. I can fill my “self” with love. “Self” is a word I put in place of “vessel.” I originally used the word “body,” but changed it for “self.” The word “body” seemed so physical, so limited, so constrained by Newtonian physics… “Self” has a much more metaphysical / spiritual connotation. Newtonian physics gives us the law “no two things can occupy the same space at the same time.” Newtonian physics need not apply to the truths of God.

Speaking of physics, I’m reminded of the saying, “nature abhors a vacuum.” This refers to the idea that, on earth under our atmosphere, if you take everything out of a space, including the air, (creating a vacuum) something (usually air) will race to fill it in, and it is really difficult to prevent that from happening. Here’s a case where a void is filled with something other than air…

“Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. “Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. “Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.” (Matthew 12:43-45)

So, we need to make sure that we don’t fill our “self” with the wrong thing, but we also need to be sure that we don’t leave it empty! In Ephesians 5:18, Paul tells us to be filled with the Spirit. How? Here is one hint: there’s a parallelish verse in Colossians that seems to equate the Word with the Spirit…

Let the Word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col 3:16)

This connection should come as no surprise, given the well-known intro to John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. (John 1:1-3)

So, does this mean that we can claim some protection against our vessel being filled with the wrong thing by simply reading God’s Word? What do you think?

Here is a question to ponder: What is more valuable, the container or the contents? Yes, of course it depends. The golden chalice that Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple is probably more important than Belshazzar’s wine. But, a plastic bucket filled with rubies and diamonds… You get the picture. What about the vessel that is my “self,“ filled with God’s Spirit? God’s Spirit that fills me might easily be the most valuable thing I could possibly conceive. But then, God so loved me that He sacrificed His only Son so that I might live. That makes me pretty valuable, right? Maybe that is just a silly question without an answer.  Let’s move on.

In that scripture from 2Tim, notice the “firm foundation of God.” This point ties in nicely with a familiar verse:

For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:11)

The foundation is not the container, or vessel, but it supports the vessel. The sea supports the cargo ship, the stove supports the pot, my flesh supports my arteries, and our Messiah supports us.

What happens when you try to put 10 pounds of stuff into a 5-pound bag? Well, once again we are faced with the questions: what is the intended purpose of the bag and the stuff we’re trying to contain? And, what are the circumstances? Can we be filled to overflowing with God’s Spirit? Yup, and here’s what happens:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalms 23:5-6)

Overflowing with God’s goodness and lovingkindness sounds pretty good, but sometimes full is all we get. I will gladly accept “merely” God’s fullness. That sounds pretty awesome, too.

When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not one vessel more.” And the oil stopped. (2 Kings 4:6)

I cannot help thinking of a list of containers found in the Bible and wondering about them… The water jars that held the wine in Cana, Elijah’s meal in a barrel and oil in a cruse, the jars of the 12 virgins, the baskets used to collect the left over loaves and fish, old versus new wineskins, Jeremiah’s muddy cistern, the rich fool’s bigger barns, whitewashed sepulchers, the basket that carried the infant Moses, the alabaster jar of nard, Noah’s ark, The Ark of the Covenant… hundreds of vessels to consider. Fill yours with His Spirit and love.

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)                    

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Resentment

I remember when I was a child in grade school, not having grown up in or been involved with any church, I heard that “God is everywhere all the time.”  This was such a strange concept to me, that I can still remember; on one sunny day, some girl told that to me on the playground at school.  Today, I still ponder the concept of God being infinite in nature. I will return to this idea later.

For now, I’d like to start off with the 10 Commandments – Exodus 20:1-17. If you have a minute now, you should read the whole thing. But I am going to focus on v.17:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17)

Notice that the command does not say: “You shall not covet your neighbor because of the love he has for God and people, nor shall you covet the love he receives from them.” Obviously, that is not part of the Commandments – God did not write that. But, is it ok to covet someone else’s love? Covet is intrinsically a bad word – it requires some level of resentment toward the person who has the thing being coveted. I think it is accurate and correct that often people write the 10th Commandment as simply “Do not Covet.” Covet contains resent.

I think we can all agree resentment is bad. We are regularly encouraged and instructed in scripture to lift each other up. How can we do that when we see that our neighbor has something that we want or feel that we need – even if that something is good and righteous?

Let’s say I notice someone in my life whom is greatly blessed. This person is clearly well loved by God and others around them and they are “really good” at loving God and others around them. When I notice that someone is exhibiting human traits that I feel are better than mine, I have two responsibilities. The first is to not covet (it is a Commandment, right?) and the second is to lift that person up; in a sense, the opposite of resentment… Here are a few of the many scriptures that say this:

Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. (1Thes 5:11)

So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. (Rom 14:19)

And my favorite:

…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, (Heb 10:24)

By communicating to them that I noticed the good thing they do and how great it is, I empower them and encourage them and to some extent validate them.  This is one way to show love. It is also not an easy thing to do, as it takes humility.

Those are my two responsibilities, “don’t covet, instead encourage.” But there is also a third thing that I will definitely want to do for my own benefit. Can you guess what that third thing is? Here is a hint:

“Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother named him Jabez saying, “Because I bore him with pain.” Now Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from harm that it may not pain me!” And God granted him what he requested.” (1 Chronicles 4:9-10)

I have been talking about coveting here and I have emphasized that coveting anything is a bad idea. Do you agree? But, let’s go back to my parody of Exodus 20:17. “You shall not covet anyone’s house; you shall not covet anyone’s wife (or husband,) you shall not covet their male or female servant, you shall not covet the love that they have for their neighbor or the love that they receive from their neighbor or anything that belongs to anyone.”

No, we should not covet someone’s love. Remember, to covet is to resent the person, which is bad. Desiring the love you see in someone else is not bad, but if it leads to resentment, then it is a sin. Here’s some good news. For those who know about it, love has a unique characteristic that makes it covet-proof.

The Adversary did not know about this characteristic, or he forgot about it, or most likely, he just didn’t care, when he accused Job.  It sounds to me like Satan coveted Job’s status of being blameless in the eyes of God. In Job 1:9-11, he said to God: Of course Job is blameless… you bless Him so much, why wouldn’t he be? “But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” That is what resentment looks and sounds like.

In this case, God’s perfect and infinite patience kind of irritates me! If I were God, when Satan wagged his finger in my face like that, I would have chained him up and thrown him into the pit right then and there!

The Adversary did not know about this characteristic, or he forgot about it, or most likely, he just didn’t care, when he accused Job.  It sounds to me like Satan coveted Job’s statusof being blameless in the eyes of God. In Job 1:9-11, he said to God: Of course Job is blameless… you bless Him so much, why wouldn’t he be? “But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” That is what resentment looks and sounds like.

Good thing I am not God.  His plan is perfect:

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

Anyway, it isn’t only love that has this characteristic. I’ll venture that all the fruits of the spirit have this covet-proof aspect. The characteristic I am getting at here is that these things, especially love, all have God as their source and therefore are an infinite resource.  There can never be a shortage.  Those things are always available. They are always abundantly available to us regardless of what our neighbor has.

Here’s an analogy…  You’re driving in your car and all of a sudden, the engine sputters and dies and your car coasts to a stop.  You realize that your gas tank is empty! Ah-Ha. What is the problem? Is there a shortage of gas? Well, in your tank, yes!  But how many gas stations did you pass recently?  The real problem is that you didn’t stop to buy gas!  And, as the other cars drive by you, do you covet the gas in their tanks? Maybe you covet the drivers’ forethought and preparedness… Remember Jabez and his prayer? The solution is simple.

This is the confidence which we have before God, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. (1 John 5:14-15)

So, all you need to do is ask and you will receive. The Kingdom of Heaven is a rare pearl, a hidden treasure, and getting there is like a camel passing thorough an eye of a needle. Narrow is the gate, and few are chosen.  This sounds like quite the challenge. But never forget this: Love is an infinite resource that flows from God, available to all.  He does love us and wants us to love one another. That is how we show our love for Him, by keeping His commandments and by loving each other – our brethren, our neighbors, and our enemies.

 “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)       

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Humility

This is one of those words that, when I hear it, I tend to nod my head in understanding. I know what it is and how important it is for us to have it as a trait. At least I thought I did… but as with most things, there is always a depth to understanding that I have not yet reached.  We all know that we need to be humble.

For some strange reason, I want the directive to be humble to come like other “commands” that are simply implicit; “Do this because I said so,” and the reason for the command is left for us to figure out. Here’s an easy one… “Thou shalt not steal.” It is a simple command to understand and follow. What if I don’t steal? And why should I not steal? These questions are reasonably answered with a bit of logic and empathy. But, the directive, as I’ve called it, to be humble, is not a direct command from God. You won’t find in Exodus 20, “Thou shalt exhibitith humility;” I guess that is why I am calling it a directive. Humility is not really a command. It is just a good idea. Or is it?

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.  (Romans 12:3)

You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, (1Peter 5:5-6)

These two scriptures are structured as commands, just not directly from God. They are also only a small selection of example passages that tell us to be humble, either implicitly or explicitly. The second one answers the question “What if I do humble myself?” – that is “God will exalt me at the proper time.” Now, that is something to look forward to! Scriptures confirm this again in Philippians 2 using Christ as the example who exhibited humility and was exalted by God.

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, (Philippians 2:8-9)

 What about the other question: “Why should I be humble?”  What good does it do, for me, or for others? I I hope that I start to answer that for you and me both in the remainder of this letter. Here is a scripture for us to think on with respect to that question – a seed that hopefully will grow into some understanding.

“Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.  (Luke 6:31)

An attitude of humility will make this Command from God much easier to obey. Humility will make our whole submission to God much easier. I am thinking that a soft heart is indicative of humility.

So, what exactly is humility? I think there are various types of humility, all of which benefit us when employed. Here are some types that I think stand out and categorizing them will maybe help us recognize them (or the lack of them) in ourselves.

Personal or social humility: This is how we tend to construct an image of ourselves that others perceive. Surely, we all know someone who works at projecting an outward image of himself in order to impress others. I don’t need to look very far to find that person. Indeed, the mirror is undoubtedly the best place for me to search! There are at least 4 selfs, or identities, that we all have:

  • The true self.  This self is so private and personal that sometimes we forget: this is our heart, into which God sees and will judge.
  • The private self. This self is the one that we show only to those who are closest to us, like our spouse, closest friends, and maybe siblings.
  • The semi-private self is who we are around our friends and the people we trust
  • The public self is the image we project to everyone else.

Certainly, this delineation is only for illustrative purposes; actually, the different levels of true identity that we expose are a gradient – just as our levels of trust in others vary. I think the ultimate goal, our striving for perfect humility, is when we only ever have one self, or identity. Where can we find an example of perfection to model? Once again:

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8)

Intellectual humility: Years of experience working, learning, or even merely living, give us an opportunity to feel like an expert of sorts and rid ourselves of humility.  It makes sense. With experience, I can anticipate an outcome of a situation and act accordingly. This earned confidence can easily lead me to focus on what I can bring to the situation. But, intellectual humility is me entering every situation with the mindset that there is something here for me to learn and grow from. The advice here is to keep your experience and wisdom close to you, but put it behind you. In front of you, and even closer, keep a curiosity.  Always know that you have more to learn and always be on the lookout for those things that can fill in the gaps.

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ “Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (Job 42:3)

Theological or Spiritual humility:  This is really an extension of intellectual humility but applies to understanding our walk with God and His ways. It is yet another thing we gain experience with over time. We use the experiences of studying scripture, meditating, considering thoughts of others, praying, etcetera, to make better decisions.  We serve ourselves well by entering into any conversation, study session, sermon, paper, article as if it were a journey into “what can I learn from this?” And we resist the urge to have pre-formed responses. Author and philosopher G.K. Chesterton, explained his theological journey this way: “It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.” I remember attending a Bar-Mitzva maybe 6 or 8 years before I believed there even was a God. The rabbi said in his message, “A wise man understands that he can learn something from anyone.”

I mentioned above that our great example for humility is Messiah Himself.  And I have cited Philippians 2 twice in this paper already, but here comes number three!  Read that chapter; the first half is directly relating examples of and encouragement for humility, but the rest has little gems of wisdom and examples.

But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. (Philippians 2:17)

Christ was obedient even to death. Paul was poured out. What about you? I read this somewhere and think it is worth keeping in mind: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2) 

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Generosity

Generosity is a word that literally means “of noble birth” from the Latin “generōsus.” Yes, this also has the same root as most of our English “gen” words, like genesis, generate, gender, genital, genus, genius… etc. Historically, the word was used to identify a person’s background or lineage – a generous person, by definition, came from a well-known, respected, powerful, and wealthy family. The label really had nothing to do with the person’s charity or compassion as it does today. In fact, stingy, generous people were likely commonplace.  It was in the late 1600’s when “nobility” was starting to be associated with the spiritual makeup of a person in addition to their physical lineage. So, noble behavior, and thus generosity, started to be something that was virtuous.

“But wait” I hear you saying, “the Bible is full of scriptures that encourage us to be generous.” Yes, and the Hebrew words translated as generous generally mean “noble.”

No longer will the fool be called noble, Or the rogue be spoken of as generous. (Isaiah 32:5)

This scripture is interesting because the word for “noble” here (nadiyb) means “liberal” or “generous” and the word for “generous” here (showa’) means “noble” or “free.” Wow, what an interesting, and maybe confusing rabbit trail to follow and get lost on.  And I have not even mentioned the Greek! I will let you continue that if you want.  My intention here is not a word study

The concept, however, of generosity is well established as a godly principle. In Acts 20, Paul claims that Jesus Himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Please try to leave any political associations behind and consider the links between the words “noble,” “liberal,” and “generous.” Put these words into phrases and the similarity of their meanings are illustrated. Commit noble acts. Apply liberally. Generous amounts…

I recently listened to a talk given by Nick Hanauer, an entrepreneur and billionaire who made a lot of money investing in Amazon in the early days. He is unashamed of his wealth, and he lives the life of a typical billionaire with multiple mansions, yachts and private planes. But he has an interesting viewpoint on his wealth that may shed some light for us on God’s idea of wealth, abundance, and generosity.  He explained that, very generally, in this world, the wealthier an individual is, the less of a percentage of their wealth they give away. This seems counter intuitive in that a wealthy person has more than enough for what is needed and the excess could be given away without much burden. But, this is rarely done in real life. His argument is that if rich people were more generous with their money, they would ultimately gain more wealth. He did give one striking example that I will share with you. If restaurant owners paid their workers enough so that they could afford to eat at restaurants, wouldn’t that benefit the restaurant industry? He is claiming that if rich people were more generous, the poor would be better off and that would make the rich richer… I think this may touch on what is God’s ideal for our physical world – If we all follow His instructions in this life, the world would be great. Treat others how you want to be treated. I envision this ideal as “an upward spiral.”

“Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” (Luke 6:29-31)

In Ecclesiastes 11, Solomon tells us to “cast our bread on the waters and it will return to us.” You can read this like a promise that applies to all mankind. In fact, I think this is where the world’s concept of karma comes from. Like Nick Hanauer, the billionaire, suggesting that generosity will serve to make you richer, we will only benefit more if we simply give what we have. This idea is so completely anti-intuitive, seemingly counterproductive to me. But it is truth. It is Truth substantiated by our Messiah, himself:

At the end of Luke 7, a generous woman dumps a whole jar of expensive ointment on the Messiah. I read one source that said the value of the nard in the jar was on the order of one year’s wages. I cannot imagine having that kind of generosity to spend a year’s salary on one gesture of reverence and love. If this gesture was her act of casting her bread on the water, it certainly came back to her – in the form of forgiveness of her sins. But we all get that, just for asking, right? She also received the praise of God and became an example to us all for the rest of time.  What’s that worth?

But let’s not forget, generous giving has nothing to do with getting anything in return. It is a gesture of love.

On the other end of the spectrum (in terms of worldly value) an example of great generosity comes to us in Mark 12 and Luke 31. That is the story of the widow generously donating all that she had to live on.  Again, what was her reward for this act of selflessness? Do we need assurance that we will be compensated for our donations? Should our donations be affected by what incentive we have or what reward we’ll get? Should we give with the hope of receiving?  Or, should we give to compensate for what we have already received? I think neither.  We give because we love.

We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (1 John 3:16)

I know a common thought that comes to mind when considering whether or not to give generously is our concern for how the gift will be used. For me, that question commonly sounds like, “if I give this beggar money, will he spend it on cigarettes and alcohol, or worse?” And that thought often prevents me from giving. It is logical, after all. We want our gift to provide the most benefit that it can, right? But, didn’t the folks at Simon’s house get chastised for criticizing the woman for “wasting” a year’s wages by pouring ointment on Christ? God wants us to give with abandon. On that impending judgment day, can you imagine God saying to you, ”Why did you give that money to the drunk guy on the street? You should have known that money would be wasted on booze!” – Or maybe this question from our Creator is more plausible, “Why did you withhold that money to the beggar on the street?” A very wise and respected man I knew often told folks who would criticize his generosity for these reasons, “I would rather be labeled gullible than stingy.” Wise words from a non-believer – especially if that label we are given is coming from our Judge!

“The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

I think that if we, the people who claim God’s promise of salvation through His Son, (a.k.a. “Christians”) practice extreme generosity and give with reckless abandon to any and all who had need, then the rest of the world would see with their eyes, and even experience firsthand the fruit of our works and thus the true love of God. This would be an amazingly effective tool to proselytize.

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)        

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Influence

I used to secretly believe that I could have been a talented musician. I do still believe that, just not secretly; I’ve gone and told all of you! I can keep a beat and hold a tune and I enjoy most genres of music. I like music not just for the joy it brings me, but for the intrigue of how the notes are put together. I marvel at the fact that music can cause you to feel sadness or excitement or joy – without lyrics. How does that work? I believe I am not a musician today because I never had the influence when I was young. Certainly, if I had grown up in a house full of musicians, I would have received the influence to learn and practice and grow in that direction. A major contributor to who we are, what we do, and how we act are the influences we grew up with. These are not always people. We can be influenced by experiences, memories, dreams, health conditions, ideologies, diet, fantasies, living conditions, habits, finances, pollution, etc…

We are the way we are because of the past. But, today we need to “play the hand we were dealt.” We might gain some insight by examining our past, but there is no sense dwelling on things we cannot change. We will become our future person because of the present.  The influences that we accept today are forming who we will become. A good friend of mine would say, “Today is the day to practice who you want to become.

An influence is something that has the capacity to affect a change in behavior. We are not bound to be changed by anything other than our own choice. I can influence you through my example, but that does not guaranty that you will change. The change is up to you.

In Deuteronomy 13:6-9, Israel was warned against being influenced by their loved ones to follow other gods. If someone tried to suggest that they worship idols, the corrective action was severe:

“So you shall stone him to death because he has sought to seduce you from the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such a wicked thing among you. (Deuteronomy 13:10-11)

Maybe no one ever was stoned to death for this, but we do know that “never again” didn’t really come to pass. We have at least one account of someone who did not follow this statute:

For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. (1 Kings 11:4)

Should Solomon have stoned his wives to death? How does this brutal advice apply to me today? The choice to follow an influence is mine; I need to make the right choice. Here is a real-life example… At one time in my life, I worked in an office with some cool guys and I was grateful to be accepted into their group as an equal. There was nothing bad or evil about them, but they did use profanity in their everyday language. They were an influence on me and eventually, I chose to change my behavior and I adopted some verbal patterns that I won’t repeat here.  After a while, I was gracefully reminded that such speech is not godly, and I stopped. But, my point is, the people you choose to hang out with will naturally influence you.  Choosing not to implement bad influences is never a challenge if you prevent those influences in the first place.

He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Prov 13:20)

Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” (1 Corinthians 15:33)

The plan is clear then, right? Surround yourself with good people and your choices will be easier; the influences on you will be more righteous. Yes, I am thinking of our Savior, of course.  He is the ultimate influence.  Clearly, we would do ourselves good to imitate Him.

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5)

The list of positive influences you can find in the Bible is a long one, for sure.  This is reason alone to spend time reading scripture. But, in real life, we sometimes get attracted by traits of others such as wit, looks, humor, wealth, charisma, passion, power, confidence, intelligence, etc., and we forget our need to exercise discernment of spirit in choosing our acquaintances.

Do not associate with a man given to anger; Or go with a hot-tempered man, Or you will learn his ways And find a snare for yourself. (Proverbs 22:24-25)

I think this proverb can be applied to any undesirable trait, not just anger. There is another man with an undesirable trait and a formidable influence that we need to be on the alert for – the old man.

knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; (Romans 6:6)

In this scripture, Paul is making a definitive assumption – that we, his readers, have already accomplished the goal successfully. That our old self is dead.  But, for me, that is not really true yet.  That guy is still able to influence me. Paul says in a different spot something that describes my situation a bit more accurately.

You were taught with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires, (Ephesians 4:22) (NET)

“Being corrupted” is not in the past, but present. For this reason, we need to lay him aside consistently.

And let us not forget that we also are influences on others.  Our words and actions will be witnessed by the others in our lives and they will be choosing whether or not to be influenced by us. If we are not careful, we could be jeopardizing our own character, wishing we were drowning with a millstone around our neck.

…but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! (Matthew 18:6-7)

We also need to be concerned with how we influence others, not just little ones who believe in Christ, but letting our light shine before all men. (Mat5:16)

…in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. (Titus 2:7-8)

If we allow Christ to be our primary influence in life by getting to know Him and imitating Him in every way, we will become influencers in the world that will lead others to choose life.

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)              

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

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